For the third time in four years, Westmeath"s senior hurlers have qualified for the final of the Christy Ring Cup, following a ten point victory over Derry.
The men from the Oak Leaf County came to Cusack Park, Mullingar on Saturday afternoon, with confidence soaring following their defeat of Down seven days earlier, but they found the resilience of Johnny Dooley"s men too much to master and the men in maroon advanced for a tilt at a third title. However, Westmeath, while delighted to have reached another decider, will be somewhat concerned at their wayward shooting, accumulating more than twenty wides over the seventy minutes.
Indeed, the home side were made to sweat late on as the Derrymen laid siege to the Westmeath goal but all to no avail. The crossbar and two stunning saves, firstly by Paul Greville from a close range Ruairi Convery free and the second by custodian, Mark Briody from a Convery penalty, were all Brian McGilligan"s charges had to show for their efforts, as their Ring Cup campaign came unstuck.
Afterwards, team boss, Brian McGilligan could hardly contain his frustration as he reflected on the game. 'The boys have put in a tremendous of work this year and to see it all end here today is very disappointing. Unfortunately, one or two players didn"t perform like we know they can and at this level, that is not acceptable.
'Add to that the goal chances which we had and didn"t take makes it more frustrating and I thought the referee could have given us a couple of decisions earlier in the second half, which might have had a bearing on the final outcome'.
While McGilligan may have had some cause for concern, the statistics show Westmeasth have a lot of work to do if they are to overcome Carlow in next weekend"s decider. In post match interviews, Westmeath boss, Johnny Dooley expressed initial an air of disappointment at the level of inaccuracy and then alarm, when the actual tally was revealed to him. 'I knew it was high but I didn"t think it was that high. That certainly gives me a lot to work on over the next week. However, we set out to reach this point of the campaign and we are delighted to get over Derry and we can prepare for the final.
Westmeath, could not have wished for a better start and after Michael Kirkpatrick had opened Derry"s account with the first of two sublime sideline cuts, the Lake County captain, Brendan Murtagh who, like Kirkpatrick, contributed six points to his side"s cause, equalised. On eight minutes came a telling score when a well directed Greg Gavin clearance was grabbed by full forward Derek McNicholas who blasted the sliotar beyond Adrian Magill.
Murtagh and Robbie Jackson stretched the lead to five points and while Derry full forward, Paddy McCloskey and wing forward Oisin McCloskey pegged back two minors, the visitors were alwasy playing catch up. Derry needed a goal and the closest they came in the opening period was through Ruairi Convery, who had started instead of Ryan O"Kane. Convery"s effort was brilliantly parried by full back Paul Greville with Convery putting the rebound over the bar.
Murtagh, with a brace, Jackson, Eoin Price and John Shaw, all added points for Westmeath as the home side threatened to move out of sight. However, the accuracy of freetaker, Michael Kirkpatrick, from placed balls and play, ensured the game was still delicately poised at the break, with Derry trailing by just four points, 1-10 to 0-9.
Within seconds of the restart Convery had reduced the leeway with a point but that was as close as the Oak Leaf County were to get to their hosts. Points from Andrew Mitchell and Pat Clarke pushed the boat out and when John Shaw chipped in with his second, the game was effectively over. But Derry had not read that script. Entering the final quarter, Sean Leo McGoldrick was impeded and a Convery rasper was turned over the bar by Paul Greville. It signalled Derry"s best period and they threw everything at the home side, with little reward.
Substitute, Michael Conway appeared to be impeded as he attempted to forge a breakthrough but referee, David O"Donovan allowed play to continue and Conway could only kick the ball wide of Mark Briody"s upright. With ten minutes remaining, Conway again stole a march on the Westmeath defence but on this occasion he was denied by the crossbar with Briody beaten.
As Derry"s frustrations grew, the home side tagged on points from McNicholas and Andrew Mitchell, to ease themselves ten points clear. In almost the last action of note in the game, Michael Conway earned Derry a penalty but Mark Briody proved equal to Convery"s initial effort and Conway"s follow-up as the home side held out.
On a day when Lady Luck deserted Derry, it was left to defenders, Cathal McCloskey, Cathal McQuilland and Mark Crraig, Ruairi Convery, Michael Kirkpatrick and Michael Conway to keep Derry afloat, while Westmeath had solid performers in Greg Gavin, Paul Greville and Darren McCormack in defence, Pat Clarke in mdfield and Brendan Murtagh, the youthful Eoin Price and a bang in-form Derek McNicholas up front.
Scorers: Westmeath - D. McNicholas 1-4, B. Murtagh 0-6, P. Clarke, R. Jackson, A. Mitchell and J. Shaw 0-2 each, E. Price 0-1. Derry - M. Kirkpatrick 0-6, R. Convery 0-3, P. McCloskey 0-2 and O. McCloskey 0-1.
Westmeath: Mark Briody; Greg Gavin, Paul Greville, Adam Price; Brian Connaughton, Darren McCormack, Paddy Dowdall; Leo Smith, Pat Clarke; Andrew Mitchell, Brian Murtagh, Eoin Price; Robbie Jackson, Derek McNicholas, John Shaw. Subs. Philip Gilsenan for L. Smith, Conor Jordan for P. Clarke.
Derry: Adrian Magill; Ruairi McCluskey, Conor Quinn, Cathal McQuillan; Sean McCullagh, Stephen Henry, Mark Craig; Ruairi Convery, Niall Holly; Oisin McCloskey, Kevin Hinphey, Ben Dodds; Michael Kirkpatrick, Paddy McCloskey, Sam Dodds. Subs. Michael Conway for N. Holly, Sean Leo McGoldrick for S. Dodds, Paddy Henry for M. Kirkpatrick, Gareth O"Kane for B. Dodds.
Referee: David O"Donovan, Dublin.